I’ve seen you describe playing music as a trans-dimensional awareness. Does the presence of witness (say, audience) play an important role in such self-immersed experience?
I think it makes a huge difference. Playing solo, alone in either a room or a natural space, allows for a deep communion with one’s inner world while listening to the resonance of the sounds all around. It can be the most powerful form of meditation to play alone in that stillness. When other people are present, the act of playing music isn’t just for me. I would love for my audience to share in that deep place that I’m exploring with my sounds and share in that awareness, but for me when I’m giving a performance, that awareness also expands to include the awareness of when some people might be uncomfortable with an abrasive kind of sound, or some people might be looking at a text message or chatting to someone at a bar, or some people are very deeply paying attention in a different way. When an audience is willing to go with me to those more spiritual places I feel that I am able to enter much more deeply than when I’m playing alone.
As your drawings were featured in Saint Laurent’s Spring/Summer 2015 men’s collection. How do you feel about it, that your art engaged in the fashion industry? Does it make people read them differently?
It all feels like kind of a game in a way. I’m just a very tiny part in this enormous thing that is the fashion industry, but from an artistic standpoint it has helped me because people have a new context in which they can view my artwork. I’m not really a fashion designer at all, but because my drawings were used on prints and embroidery, they have been freed from the paper on which they were made to become part of something that could define the person who wears the clothing. I think that’s exciting and I would like to do more of that kind of work but maybe if I were to design the clothing, not just the prints, maybe I could create something much more “mythical” like a costume for magical rituals. I never would have guessed that a fancy fashion company like Saint Laurent would be interested in my work, but in a way I wasn’t so surprised, either. The drawings I make are not imitations of anyone else’s style, and nobody could really make the drawings the way I do, so a fashion company wants to use something that no one has ever seen before, something surprising.
Do you consider painting a self-contained process that reflects the external environment, or if it is actually participating in a more dynamic way? Do you do painting performances? How does that feel?
Painting is a meditation for me too, like music. When the brush dipped in ink dances across the paper, I’m always surprised by the visions that emerge. I have a small window through which I can spy upon the inner workings of a universe that is still largely unexplored. I’ve a series of drawing and painting performances- I wanted more of a merger between my visual practice and my musical practice so I tried taking the drawing performances into gallery spaces that were known more as concert venues. It was a lot of work to organize these events and sometimes it was difficult for an audience to understand what was happening at every moment…but it forced me to create larger drawings and that was exciting. I never go into a drawing performance with any plan about the results, so I really have to improvise with my ink to find a way to tap into my inner resonances while people might be watching, or talking, or taking pictures with their phones!
Have you been to the lands of which your music and art were inspired by? India, Indonesia and so on. I know that you did a residency in Indonesia early on but please tell us more.
It’s not that my music and art are inspired by any specific place so much as they are inspired by the dreams and imagination of places that could be. I’ve traveled enough around the world to know that there is no place where anyone can find perfect freedom except in our own hearts and spirit. I think it’s really important for artists to connect with each other across different cultures- it’s the artists and musicians that should be the real ambassadors between the different areas of our world. I do connect very deeply with many of the approaches to music that are more common in some of the Asian countries, but when you actually go to those places, many of the musicians you meet are more interested in learning about American music. All the kids I meet in Indonesia are obsessed with Nirvana, punk music, heavy metal. They are attracted by the power of the extreme sounds and they feel like that music has the power to set them free. I’m obsessed with Jathilan, a traditional kind of Javanese trance music (and dance). When I hear the extreme sounds in a Jathilan ceremony it makes my spirit feel free. So when I talk to kids in Indonesia I try to make comparisons that everyone can understand- whether you go deep into the profound experience of loud punk rock, or Jathilan trance music- maybe you can get possessed by similar kinds of spirits?
I like going to Indonesia because it’s one of the most diverse musical ecologies in the world- there are so many different kinds and approaches to traditional music. Today there are some very interesting musicians who want to take their traditional sounds into a more experimental, avant-garde context. That’s an idea I can really relate to! Whenever we’re able to meet together not as an American and an Indonesian (or any other origin) but as artists seeking to create something new from what came before, I feel like I’m at home.
Your work primarily focuses on the trance experience. What was the most memorable moment that you felt entranced in those places? Did those voyages put a sharp impact on your art & worldview or if you felt more like traveling within your own state of mind?
Well, specific to Indonesia and Java in particular, there are many forms of trance music- and when I expressed an interest in joining in the trance music as a musician from another country with a background in my own kind of “trance music” style, they were very excited and invited me to participate in some wild things. I don’t think it changed my world view, I think it confirmed that I am in the correct world view to approach these situations with openness and a spirit of collaboration.
Any interest in theater? The Indonesian Wayang kulit seems like a great inspiration and theater itself in a way creates a trance environment.
Many kinds of “folk theater” around the world have a very trance link quality. I actually had more of a background in theater as a child before I was really a musician. I also studied Butoh with a disciple of Ono Kazuo, which is just as much a form of theater as it is a form of dance. So I bring that training and experience with me always in my musical performances- I always try to present music in an “embodied” form- by that I mean I think there is something essentially physical about a musical performance, and I see many musicians that do not seem to be aware of that- performing with bad posture, looking down at their feet, etc. and they don’t realize how much that will affect the sound as well as their overall presentation.